Why focus on Kiki Camarena when so many other narcotic officers have been killed or severely injured in the line of duty?
No other event so galvanized public opinion against drug trafficking and abuse. Dodge Galanos tells why:
The Enrique S. Camarena Educational Foundation has set out to memorialize one of the most tragic events in the history of drug law enforcement, the death of DEA Special Agent Enrique “Kiki” Camarena. This event, by it’s very nature, was one of the most cowardly and reprehensible acts ever perpetrated in DEA’s history, an event which involved the kidnapping of a DEA Agent in broad day light with the complicity of the Mexican Police, the ensuing drawn out torture and interrogation which was recorded in a series of audio tapes and ultimately the murder of an Agent who had been kept alive by medical doctors so that the interrogation could continue unabated. All this was followed by a well orchestrated cover up by Mexican law enforcement officials at the highest levels of that government. The impact that this event had on drug trafficking, nationally and internationally, is without parallel in the history of the war against drug trafficking. It drew media attention from the day that “Kiki” went missing to months and even years after. It drew the outrage of the American public who, for the first time ever, saw the true dark images of what drug trafficking was all about and to what depths the drug traffickers would sink to maintain control in order to reap astronomical profit. They saw the brutality of the traffickers, viewed first hand the bundled dead body of Agent Camarena in the back of a pick up truck and the heart rending scene of his widow as the coffin was escorted down the ramp of the USAF C130 by a Marine Corps color guard. These detailed events went out on national TV as they unfolded night after night and as virtually every man and woman in the offices throughout DEA, working with other law enforcement agencies, took some part in the various stages of the investigation to resolve the issues as they developed. Virtually every major newspaper, television station, and high profile correspondent covered the activities as they unfolded. Many took it much further by detailing the brutal nature of the drug trafficker and the depths to which corruption reached even to the steps of the Mexican capitol, and the doorstep of the Mexican Attorney General, who resisted DEA’s every request for assistance until the undaunted efforts of DEA Administrator, Jack Lawn, demanded the cooperation of the Mexican AG. The cooperative efforts of Customs Commissioner William von Raab, who effectively sealed off the border with Mexico and the outspokenness of John Gavin, U.S. Ambassador to Mexico, all of whom took varying degrees of risk to their careers forced the hand of the Mexican government to cooperate, albeit grudgingly. Even Attorney General Edwin Meese became personally involved in the case and President Reagan was kept updated. Never before had anyone witnessed a more dedicated and concerted effort on the part of U.S. law enforcement agents to bring this case to closure nor had the media been in DEA’s corner as much as they were in the days, weeks and months during which these dramatic events unfolded.
This tragic scenario served to reinforce Nancy Reagan’s efforts against drugs as her part in President Reagan’s war on drugs. It gave rise to numerous anti drug organizations and revitalized others but most importantly it awakened the American public. And some 5 years after the fact, it resulted in a mini series on NBC titled, “Drug Wars: The Camarena Story,” which portrayed the heroic efforts of all of our agents. Elaine Shannon who covered the tragic events for Newsweek magazine, chronicled the events surrounding the murder in a book titled, “Desperados”. As a result of the publicity, resulting outrage and hue and cry for tougher drug laws and other events too numerous to mention, this tragic event became a historical marker for ensuing change that brought about public awareness in the schools, civic organizations and even businesses. Billboards sprung up all over the country decrying the drug menace, some even demanding that Kiki Camarena’s murderers be brought to justice. In memorial services throughout the United States such notables as Rudolph Giuliani, Governor Pete Wilson, Congressman Duncan Hunter, Ambassador John Gavin, Secretary of State George Shultz, Attorney General Ed Meese and numerous other dignitaries of equal stature paid their respects personally or in writing. And more recently the Argentine government requested and received permission to name a school in that country in honor of Kiki Camarena.
Many people forget that Red Ribbon Week was originated as an annual reminder of Agent Camarena’s ultimate sacrifice in the war against drugs and that ceremonies are held at the end of every October to commemorate the tragic events surrounding his death. Additionally, the DEA Museum exhibit which opened it’s doors in 1999, honors Agent Camarena together with all the fallen heroes of DEA in the Wall of Honor which is prominently displayed within the exhibit.
To this day, some 20 years after the fact, most people still remember this tragic event, if not the name, Kiki Camarena. By reintroducing these events through a reminder, a representative bronze bust of Enrique Camarena and by granting scholarships to deserving students, we hope to capture the essence of the DEA Agent, make it representative of all our fallen comrades in drug law enforcement and rekindle the public awareness and indignation that was aroused in all of our fellow citizens in the months and years after that eventful day in February of 1985. The Foundation has already placed 33 busts and is looking at the possibility of placing many more of them in public buildings throughout the United States. Additionally, the Foundation has joined with educators to bring its message to schools and the public in general. The Foundation encourages you to support this endeavor. The stronger the support for this project which highlights the tragic events surrounding the death of Agent Camarena, the greater the impact that it may have in reducing drug abuse throughout the United States.
Diogenes K. Galanos
Former Executive Director
Enrique S. Camarena Educational Foundation